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Is the Nature of Man Trichotomous II?

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Question:  Hello Robert,  I have written you a couple of times over the past several years when I have run into questions concerning the spiritual topic I have been studying at the time. I value your input and perspective, and it has usually helped me over the more difficult or complex rough spots I have encountered along the way.

Currently, I am starting to study about the two different sides and arguments concerning the nature of man. That of being a dichotomy or of being a trichotomy.

My gut impression and leanings says that both sides are correct to a degree, depending on when the person is examined. As I understand it, our spirit is dead at birth as a result of the fall of man. So this would mean to me that we have a body, soul and a dead spirit - or the equivalent of having nothing at all spirit wise - at birth, and then when we enter into a relationship with God thru our salvation, He imparts His Spirit to us, making us complete. It is up to the newly given Spirit within us at that point to bring the soul and the body in line with the nature of that Spirit.

But along the way in this study, I have discovered that there is an argument of a "three-tiered salvation". Somehow the concept seems flawed, and aside from understanding that that which is perfect - the Spirit of God within us - requires no salvation, because it is perfect and has all of the attributes of God, I feel as if I am overlooking something more obvious.

I would ask if you would consider reading the text, and let me know what, if anything, is flawed in the logic and explanation. It seems to make the idea of salvation a lot more complicated than what I have understood up until now, and if I have somehow missed the boat, I need to give this a great deal more thought. It is not that I question my salvation. It is more that I want to get a firm grasp on my own nature, relative to my relationship with God.

Response :  As to the first issue you broach, man is dichotomous, but inseparably so, so that salvation must necessarily involve the whole person. I am on record on the topic of "dichotomy vs. trichotomy" in rather extensive detail. Time and space do not permit the rehearsal of all that detail here, but I can give you a quick overview. The spirit is the purely immaterial part of man; the body is the purely material part. Human beings have always been and always will be an inseparable combination of both. That is how we were originally created, that is how we will be resurrected, and that is even how we will find ourselves in the interim between the two (which explains why we have an interim body in heaven, and why they had one in Abraham's bosom in Hades before Christ's ascension). The Bible does mention a "soul", but this is much more of an OT term than an NT one - not that the word "soul" isn't extensively used in NT theology. It is, but that is because of Latin influence (the Latin language and the Roman system of anthropology/psychology). In biblical terms, the soul and the heart are indistinguishable. That is, while we are material (we all have a body which can be seen) and at the same time immaterial (we all have a spirit which can't be seen), we are nonetheless all single persons - we never, never, never have two foci of identity or operation. We are indeed "one", a union of body and spirit. Now it is true that since our body is corrupt, the weaknesses it exhibits often do conflict with the choices we would otherwise make, were we purely spiritual beings ("the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"). Such "conflicts" are the stuff of the inner-wrestlings of our heart, the place of emotion, of conscience and consciousness, of our inner-life and thought and mind. That is to say, of our "soul". In Hebrew (nephesh) and in Greek (psyche as used in the NT to translate nephesh), the idea of the "soul" is always this: not of a separate inner-person or organ distinct from our immaterial part, the spirit, but of the "place and person within" where the two meet. That is why both words in both languages can and often do double for "person", "life", and "self". Here are the links for the details and scriptures on this point:

"The Dichotomy of Man" from part 3 of The Satanic Rebellion: The Purpose, Creation and Fall of Man

"The Human Spirit" from part 3 of The Satanic Rebellion: The Purpose, Creation and Fall of Man

e-mail response: Is the Nature of Man Trichotomous?

As to the second issue you ask about, salvation is an all or nothing proposition involving the whole person given through God's grace based upon our faith in Jesus Christ. The concept of a "tiered" salvation, I would have to say that this is a case of hyper-theology in the excerpt you have provided. The author makes a number of assumptions from all of these scriptures he quotes, and, to my view, many of them are false. Just as his claim of an obvious "trichotomy" is clearly not true (i.e., whether you choose to believe trichotomy or not, it is definitely not a belief that flows easily from a simple reading of the scriptures as a whole, but rather a "developed doctrine", and one which will not stand the test of scrutiny from the rest of scripture, in my firm view), so also his assumption that the passage "Christ is the Savior of all men, and especially of believers" means that therefore all will be saved is an assumption which the rest of scripture will not support. Jesus is the Savior of the world, and He did come into the world to save all, and did die for all (Jn.3:16; 2Cor.5:14-15). But that does not necessarily mean that all are saved (those who reject Him are not saved), and anyone who has read the whole Bible even once is quite well aware that there are numerous passages which explain the ultimate disposition of unbelievers. The lake of fire is a biblical teaching (Matt.25:41; Rev.20:11-15), not a hyper-theological development. When we explain what the Bible says, that is legitimate; when we "logically deduce" what the Bible must mean we are often on thin ice (because our logic necessarily falls short of divine wisdom), and when our logical deductions regarding certain passages contradict what the Bible plainly says elsewhere, we are clearly in the wrong.

Salvation at "different levels" is something which the scripture won't support. The very passage which your author relies upon so heavily in making this argument, I Thessalonians 5:23, says quite clearly on the face of it that this salvation is on all levels at the same time (that's the basic meaning of the threefold wish by Paul - "I want you completely saved", i.e., without doubt and with a full reward, not "piece by piece"). We can't exist without a body or without a spirit (the two together interlocked is who we are) and together the two = our soul/heart/person. We aren't only saved in body (salvation is beyond this current world); we aren't only saved in spirit (salvation entails resurrection). When we are saved, the whole person is saved - that is the only way it could happen. While there is only one level of salvation, scripture does teach three levels of sanctification. Sanctification is both initial (salvation - we become His); ultimate (resurrection - we are permanently His forever), and temporal, or should be (we begin to follow Him and act like we are His); this last type of sanctification, "experiential sanctification" simply equals the changes for the good we undergo when we take up our cross and follow Jesus in this life (and some Christians are more dedicated to this than others). Salvation is all or nothing, though each of us makes a different level of commitment to Jesus during this life, leading to different levels of reward for our service to Him in time. But there is only one ultimate salvation. All who choose for Jesus and faithfully maintain their faith in Him in this life are saved. It is really no more complicated than that.

More about these issues can also be found at the site:

        Peter's Epistles #13: Sanctification

        Peter's Epistles #18: Production and Eternal Rewards

I would be happy to consider individual points or scriptures, should you think that helpful.

In the One who died for us that we might live together with Him, complete in body, soul, and spirit, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill


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